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FEATURE-Amazon forest schemes await strong climate pact

SUSTAINABILITY

The $30 monthly stipend is a useful rather than a transformational boost to family incomes in Juma, which can be between $2,000 and $5,000 a year.

But for Quadro and the other inhabitants of Juma, which lies in an area threatened by intrusions from a major highway, the payment funded by contributions by guests of the Marriott appears to be changing the way they see the forest.

“If we take trees from the river banks, the river will dry up and it will hurt our fish,” he said, standing in front of trees that resounded to the squawks of parrots.

“If we take the trees from the land, it will hurt our hunting and we’ll be without food for our children.”

Families that receive the Bolsa Floresta pledge to stop destructive practices and act as the eyes and ears of the forest by reporting illegal deforestation -- a role that is often beyond Brazil’s thinly-resourced environmental agency.

The idea is for carbon emissions saved in the reserve compared to a “business as usual” scenario to be sold as credits, with the funds used to improve education and stimulate sustainable industries such as nut gathering.

Given a forecast that Juma will generate 3.6 million tonnes of credit in its first 10 years, it could expect a windfall of more than $7 million a year at current carbon prices.

A study by McKinsey & Company found that Brazil could cut its emissions by about 40 percent compared to “business as usual” by 2030 with annual investments of 5.7 billion euros ($8.4 billion) in forest preservation and social programs, half the average global cost of emissions reduction.

In Juma, though, the community’s own deforestation -- slash-and-burn clearing to grow traditional crops -- continues. The nutrient-thin Amazon soil is a farmer’s nightmare, forcing communities to cut down trees for fresh land.

Environmentalists say that for projects like Juma to be sustainable over the long term and avoid dependency, they need to shift to permaculture farming that can co-exist with the forest and to strengthen the weak market for forest products.

FINDING MARKETS

REDD projects will one day end, leaving Amazon forest communities to stand on their own feet again.

“I think that’s the big challenge of REDD -- to use this income ... in a way that’s going to generate sustainable long-term income,” said Monique Vanni, a London-based environment consultant who visited Juma this month.

“That’s all about finding new markets and getting them to organize production.”

Sustainable practices such as rubber, managed logging, and nuts are potentially many more times lucrative than destructive industries. A chronic lack of education and market access in the Amazon has long hampered their growth.

In the main Juma community of Boa Frente, such efforts are in their infancy. Only nut collection provides a significant alternative income, although there are plans to sell seeds from trees to replant degraded forest in other parts of Brazil and to begin a managed logging program.

While debate goes on over the best way to save it, time continues to tick away for the Amazon. Extremes such as a severe drought in 2005 and heavy floods this year underline concerns about the effect of climate change on the forest.

About 100,000 families are now on the move in Amazonas state, searching for new land after their crops were wiped out by this year’s floods, Braga said. REDD may not a panacea, he said, but done with professional monitoring and safeguards against corruption, it is a vital part of the solution.

“The pressure on the forests is the most worrying in four years,” he said. “Because of this, the world can’t wait any more.

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